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Benchmarks: Be Careful What You Ask For…

My new client proudly proclaimed that the FCCR (First Call Resolution Rate) for their customer contact center was well over 90%. Benchmarked against other software support centers, the operation was clearly a stunning success, and the senior executive had been invited to discuss his “secret sauce” at an upcoming professional convention’s plenary session. Unfortunately, the metric wasn’t quite telling the truth, as I discovered after a hour of observation and a quick querying of the database. The reps were routinely closing the case records at the end of each call — if the customer called back when the fix didn’t work, a new case record was opened, and closed in turn. Why would the reps be motivated to close cases at the slightest pretext? Because their key performance indicator was their personal case closure rate, and nobody was checking to make sure that the cases really were being resolved.

No More Abandoned Calls?

In another company, the CEO was upset at the high percentage of “abandoned” calls (where the customer hangs up before reaching an agent) in their center. Determined to beat the industry benchmark, he decreed a zero-abandon goal was to be attained in a week — or heads would roll. Surprise! A week later, the telephone switch was correctly reporting zero abandons in the center. (The new adjusted definition of an “Abandoned” call was a customer who remained on the phone for more than 72 hours before hanging up.) Elsewhere, deft usage of the “busy out” phone system feature quickly reduced the incoming call volume in a different center to what could be handled within the specified target service level that had been ordered from above. The source of the target service level was an “Industry Standard” benchmark. While the center’s stats looked good on paper, over 50% of the customers who tried to call for service received only a busy signal.

The benchmark that counts is sustainable profitability through customer retention. The foundation is a precise knowledge of all your operational costs, so that you can then calculate profit-per-call, revenue and profit margin per employee, return on investment in training and knowledge creation, etc. It doesn’t matter what percentage of your customers say that they’ll recommend you to their friends, what counts is how many actually do recommend you and what percentage of those recommendations are turned into sales and repeat customers. If the reports from your company’s customer contact center are all about benchmarks, it’s time to institute a new set of management metrics, ones that can be expressed directly in dollars and sense.